The Los Angeles mayor's race has a haggard, been-there-done-that feel as if the City of Angels were approaching the end of politics.
The top candidates in the March 8 primary were all Democrats, with some lesser-known hopefuls added in. All that talent and yet the turnout was a measly 26 percent of registered voters.
The end of politics? It's what you get when only the candidates' entourages show up at rallies, few regular citizens care who wins, and issues don't matter anymore.
Villaraigosa compares the L.A. mayoral election with the election in Iraq, where the turnout was almost 59 percent and laments. Hahn told me that the mayoral primary didn't even generate the turnout of the 2001 election when he won the mayor's office.
Then, it was 30 percent. Now, the May 17 runoff election pits not the top candidates of each party but the top two vote-getters.
It will be the end of politics when all the interest groups have endorsed every candidate at different times.
Villaraigosa had a press conference to tout endorsements from several San Fernando Valley neighborhood groups. Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association head Richard Close was not the only San Fernando Valley biggie to have endorsed first Hahn four years ago, then Bob Hertzberg in the primary last month and now Villaraigosa in the runoff.
Later that day, Hahn had a press conference with County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. Antonovich, a Republican, backed City Councilman Bernard Parks in February, but announced his endorsement of Hahn, who had canned Parks as police chief.
Antonovich explained that Hahn would be better on "public safety." Antonovich also referred to Hahn's father, the late Kenny Hahn, an icon in L.A. politics with legendary ties (for a white guy) to the city's black community.
No doubt Hahn appreciated the reference, because Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters' endorsement of Villaraigosa signaled a retreat of black voters. Waters explained that she switched from Hahn to Villaraigosa because "Jimmy Hahn is no Kenny Hahn."
It didn't help that the L.A. County Democratic Central Committee made the unusual move of snubbing a sitting Democrat, instead endorsing Villaraigosa. In the end of politics, there will be no lasting alliances.
The end of politics will come when every candidate agrees on every issue. At a recent debate, Hahn and Villaraigosa held the same view on virtually every angle of every issue. Driver's licenses for illegal immigrants? "Yes," said Villaraigosa. "It's a public safety issue." I agree, chimed in Hahn, who added, "You can't get (auto) insurance if you can't get a license."
Both said, however, that the federal government is remiss in its poor enforcement of immigration law, but it would be wrong for the city to enforce immigration law.
So where is the politically defining disagreement? Over traffic.
Hahn said he would reduce congestion by improving the worst 25 intersections, while Villaraigosa said he would work to improve all 40,000 of the city's intersections. "If you aim high, you can accomplish more," explained former Villaraigosa aide Elena Stern. With Villaraigosa's can-do attitude and lobbying skills in Sacramento and Washington, he can charm more state and federal funds for traffic improvements, she said.
At the end of politics, victory goes to the side that smashes all faith in the other guy.
Team Hahn parries back with this: Villaraigosa has gone back on his word. He said he wouldn't run for mayor when he ran for City Council. In 2001, he told one group he was for Parks, but told another group he was against him.
Camp Antonio says: Hahn is a part-time mayor; he goes home at 4 p.m. He made his top fundraiser a deputy mayor, and the deputy mayor was too cozy with big donors. Now the Hahn administration is the target of corruption probes.
And, he isn't a visionary. He doesn't keep his promises; traffic is still miserable.
"I've made some decisions that haven't made me the most popular guy," Hahn said.
The odd part is, Hahn is in hot water for making two decisions that are highly popular with L.A. voters replacing Parks with current Police Chief William Bratton and defeating the 2002 campaign for secession of the San Fernando Valley from the city. How does a man's rep plummet by doing things voters want?
L.A. political consultant Darry Sragow, who is neutral in this race, likens Hahn to recalled Gov. Gray Davis. He has been "invisible" to voters, said Sragow, and is surrounded by "the taint of scandal."
But Hahn has won six citywide races. Only a fool would count him out, even now. And, I'll add, Villaraigosa played into Hahn's hands at the debate, when he promised too much, and hence came off as less credible.
Villaraigosa admitted to me that the best turnout to be expected on May 17 is 30 percent. If so, Angelenos will be turning out in higher numbers for the nastiest part of a nasty race.
At the end of politics, all politics is personal. Very personal.
*Debra J. Saunders is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.
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